OAKWOOD — With all eyes in Region 7-AAA baseball on Buford and North Hall, West Hall is making an attempt to sneak up and steal a playoff spot this season.
The Spartans are chasing down that goal with a four-game winning streak at hand following its 15-3 win over East Hall on Friday in Oakwood. The victory moves West Hall (7-6, 4-4 Region 7-AAA) back to .500 in region play and over the mark overall.
After watching an early four-run lead shrink to one in the third inning, the Spartans belted out 10 runs in the fourth to activate the mercy rule one inning later and seal their largest margin of victory of the year. It’s the third time this season they’ve had double digit runs in a game.
First-year head coach Dustin Rennspies called it a step in the right direction, considering his team’s recent struggles to finish games after mounting early leads.
“When we have the opportunity to put a team away, we have to stay focused,” Rennspies said. “We lost some focus, we got them together in dugout and talked to them. Got them refocused, and had good approaches to put together a really good inning.”
The stellar inning didn’t feature a single extra-base hit, but instead consisted of precise ball placement scattered across the field to keep the basepaths busy. Lincoln Stubbs started the barrage with a sacrifice fly to score Zach English, and three ensuing hits set up an RBI single by Dustin Walsh to give West Hall a 7-3 lead.
East Hall (3-10, 1-7) pitching put another run on the scoreboard when Baldo Greene was hit by a pitch with the bases still loaded, followed by back-to-back RBI singles from Sterling Rider and English on his second at-bat of the inning. Cameron Johnson then added two more runs when he roped a line drive that popped out of the glove of Vikings first baseman Garrett Bishop, and Chase Jarrard followed it up with another RBI single. Johnson capped off the assault by scoring from third during the final at-bat of the inning.
It was the kind of inning Rennspies wants to see more as his team continues to venture through a lengthy region schedule, which continues against Buford on Friday.
“We started 0-4 in the region, and I told the guys, ‘We have 21 region games — it’s a long, long grind. Get yourself in a position to be back in this,’” Rennspies said. “They did a good job getting back in it. Now we’re 4-4 and we have another region game on Friday.”
Michael Cronic pitched a complete game for West Hall, striking out two and allowing two earned runs.
While run support ended up being a non-issue by the fifth inning, he still made things easier for himself. He tallied the Spartans’ only extra-base hit of the game in the second inning when he tripled to score Jarrard and Brian Newman, giving his team an early 4-0 lead.
“He’s helped us a lot on the mound and he’s swinging the bat very well,” Rennspies said. “He’s a strike thrower. Any time you have guys that can throw strikes and let the defense, you have a chance to win the ball game.”
Johnson provided the first run of the game earlier in the second, singling to score English from third.
Newman and Walsh each went 3 for 3 at the plate to lead West Hall. Walsh’s third-inning line drive provided a free pass to home plate for Jarrard at third after the hit was bobbled in the outfield, giving the Spartans a 5-3 lead heading into their massive inning.
It helped alleviate West Hall’s only scare of the evening, a three-run surge by East Hall in the top of the third.
Vikings starting pitcher Hunter Buffington helped his own cause with an RBI double to snap Cronic’s no-hitter, followed by a sacrifice groundout by Spencer Skelton to force home Frankie Hale. Buffington later scored from third on mishandled ground ball hit by Jacob Cash.
Buffington took the loss for East Hall, giving up five runs with one strikeout in three innings of work. Hale, Jack Hawgood and Jacob Cash each made stints on the mound during West Hall’s high-scoring fourth inning.
East Hall visits Banks County on Friday.